We Learn Nothing: Essays by Tim Kreider

Summary from Goodreads:

In We Learn Nothing, satirical cartoonist Tim Kreider turns his funny, brutally honest eye to the dark truths of the human condition, asking big questions about human-sized problems: What if you survive a brush with death and it doesn’t change you? Why do we fall in love with people we don’t even like? What do you do when a friend becomes obsessed with a political movement and won’t let you ignore it? How do you react when someone you’ve known for years unexpectedly changes genders? 

Irreverent yet earnest, he shares deeply personal experiences and readily confesses his vices— betraying his addiction to lovesickness, for example, and the gray area that he sees between the bold romantic gesture and the illegal act of stalking.

We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider is one unexpected surprise. Largely in part because when I picked up this book I was thinking that a great percentage of it would be ha-ha-funny, or poke-fun-at-stuff funny. It turned out to be something deeply personal and very reflective. He writes with an x-ray vision like perceptiveness that I felt a little bit unraveled. There are certain events and actions in these essays that I recognized to have happened to me, or that I did at one point in my life. Granted, they were in a different context. But Kreider writes with such open-mindedness that it's impossible for you not to see yourself or perhaps a future of yourself, in his writings. And when the author states an opinion, say he takes a stand behind Idea X, he explains the reason why with great precision and passion. Then on the other side we have the people who espouse Idea Y. Sure, he gets a little blunt and brutal about these people but ultimately he tells us the rationality of why these people took up Idea Y. He doesn't sit on a throne and point a finger at you and call you an ignoramus. He doesn't damn to the depths of hell, whoever takes up a contradicting ideology from his own. Instead he takes up not only a measure of tolerance but that of respect. There just some things that we cannot reconcile between ourselves. So, let's agree, to disagree, says he.  

This essay collection is written in a way that it manages to be both intelligent and accessible at the same time because of how Kreider uses humor, self-deprecating but never reaching the point of patronizing. He gives us terms like Soul Toupee, Referendum, and Defriending, all of which have meanings that speak of human truths. There are moments when he writes as if it's in a confessional or a personal journal. I particularly enjoyed the essays about this affable but somewhat degenerate friend Skelly. As well as the one about his transgender friend Jim/Jenny Boylan, and another of his old friend Ken. Even the simplest and silliest moments like the few sentences he wrote about his dog, or when he talked about his high school experience with his two best buddies. I enjoyed them all because he seems to look at everything about life with great love and affection even though he knows that life is hard and wearisome. 

I couldn't have had a better book to start the year 2014. It's smart and funny and witty. And because it encourages me to be a better human being, as soppy as that may sound. I loved it. 


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